Worldreader is on a mission to eradicate illiteracy among people in low-income countries. To do this, it trains teachers as well as primary school children to use e-readers, supporting the educators and helping them cultivate children's love of reading at an early stage. These children can access thousands of culturally relevant local stories as well as major international books. In just a few months of using the e-readers, children show significant improvements in fluency and comprehension and the gender gap closes. Once children are active readers, together with their families they can continue to access the content via the mobile phone app that is available to 80 percent of people in low-income countries via mobile feature phones.
Worldreader strives not only to improve reading rates and demand for books, but also to help create a sustainable ecosystem to support reading in the communities, thereby helping people make decisions, learn, grow and take charge of improving their quality of life.
Globally, there are at least 800 milion people who are illiterate, along with 250 million primary-school-age children without basic reading and writing skills (Source: UNESCO). In sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than 200 million children live in areas where access to printed books is either non-existent or prohibitively expensive to deliver.
The Worldreader project addresses the issue of literacy, which is critical to individual and community prosperity. It inspires creativity and self-confidence, supports skills attainment, and increases employability and social advancement. To quote a leading aid agency, “Reading is the single most critical skill in early education. Children without reading skills are on a lifetime trajectory of limited opportunity”.
Worldreader uses readily available technology and existing communications infrastructure to deliver content. In collaboration with sponsoring organizations, it is closing the gap between the cost of devices and books, and the price local communities pay becomes affordable. The funding model also allows the organization to develop and digitize local books, as well as manage logistics and support partnering with local governments, school systems, and local businesses. Worldreader builds capacity in the communities where it works, providing technical and pedagogical training for project managers and local teachers. It also helps local businesses repair e-readers along with cellphones.
As of February 2014, Worldreader has put nearly one million e-books on e-readers – and the empowering ideas they contain – into the hands of nearly 14,000 children in nine African countries. Using Worldreader Mobile, more than 220,000 people are reading a wide variety of books, including educational material, health tips, romance stories, prize-winning short stories, children’s books, classics, and more, in addition to books in 15 local African languages, on a device they already own: their mobile phone. Monitoring and evaluation has shown that children in the e-reader program read more and read better once they have access to books. Their native and English-language fluency improve markedly.
In the coming years, Worldreader will continue to engage with communities on the ground, learn from its implementations, publish its learnings widely and, most importantly, scale significantly. Using the best existing and emerging technolgies allows it the potential to touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Its success to date has been dependent on partnering with world-class organizations and it will continue to do that, seeking new partners.